Its quite a natural thing in human nature to compare an experience that someone has, to one of your own. It makes you feel included, similar, able to offer support and advice. Some do it more often than others, some just sit and listen and wish not to compare. Some do have similar experiences, that are actually similar, and by sharing are able to go me too and that is such a comfort.
Unfortunately, it is when your comparisons are a little bit too much to the left or right of the other person’s experience that they fail to be a comfort. What they succeed in doing is telling the other person “I am not listening, I do not understand, I do not get it, and I cannot help you” and that is so isolating to hear. Particularly, as when you are that person, it is only you that hears it.
We’ve all been there, screaming in our heads that is not the same thing, yet we still do it to other people. I guess human nature really needs us to look for ourselves in other people’s misfortune.
Luckily (or probably because we don’t actually socialise that much) we haven’t experienced too many unfortunate comparisons. However, what I am really struggling with currently, is the comparison or assumption that the death of my child is the same as trying to conceive. I’ve been pondering for days to try and work out how best to explain this one. For some, its obvious, for others, it clearly isn’t.
Lately, we have had “It took us a while to conceive, too”, “they struggled too, you know” and my personal current favourite “when are you going to try again, I bet you are excited!”.
Now, if you are confused as to why ‘trying again’ doesn’t have us achieving a jumping-up-and-down-piss-your-pants-with-excitement level of excitement, perhaps you need to re-cap and read a few blog posts.
Why isn’t Leo just a part of our trying to conceive journey?
Simply, because we conceived him. Destination achieved.
Our ‘trying to conceive’ journey started nearly four years ago, we went through four fertility treatments before finally conceiving Leo on our fifth. It was arduous, it changed us, it was exhausting, educational. Your sole focus in life shifts. For us, doing treatment, every penny was attributed to its relevant worth in fertility treatments. Shall we go on holiday? No, that’ll be 1 IUI. Shall we get a new telly? No, thats half our cost of sperm. (Yes, sperm is expensive). Everything revolved around cycles, and when we may or may not fall pregnant, and what ifs, and buts, and budgets, and saving, and dealing with other people’s pregnancies with a deep anger that you can’t achieve ‘pregnant mum’ phase. It was full of drugs, anxiety, whispers, the desire to keep it to ourselves because we couldn’t deal with the outward pressure, the seventeenth dentist appointment at work, the effects of the drugs, the walking around with golf balls for ovaries, the constant internal exams, and hopes and dreams falling on a teeny tiny miracle of life. This is my own experience of trying to conceive. We are relatively unique, in that being a two-womb family gives us a different perspective of conception and treatment. This is our trying to conceive journey.
I would describe our trying to conceive journey as like a small, slow chipping away at you. Quite like the tide does to the coast line. You don’t notice the day to day, but the year to year change is a little bit more noticeable. And with every tide, more and more gets slowly chipped away.
In May 2015, we conceived. We finally did it! We finally got a positive pregnancy test. It was so unreal – that tide chipping away at us was slowly telling us this won’t ever happen for you and now it did. It was just too good to be true. But we did it. We achieved. And everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.
And he died.
If you need to put life in chapters, trying to conceive ended in May 2015. Pregnancy happened for 37 weeks and 1 day. And then, the worst chapter happened. Stillbirth.
To continue with my analogy, if trying to conceive slowly chipped away at us, Leo dying plummeted us head first, no life jacket, no warning, straight into a rip tide, and drowned us. In an instant. In the time it takes to say “Your baby has died”. No more chipping away, this little island of me, is non-existent. It exists on the history books of maps, but it is no longer present. That wave was just too big.
To just roll this past four years into one ‘trying to conceive’ journey, to perceive it as such, hurts. It hurts because it undermines the value that Leo has, and the wrong that is his death. To take it as part of a conception journey is wrong – he was full term, he should be here, he was healthy, I was healthy, there is no justifyable reason why I spend my days writing blog posts about baby loss, and not weaning a baby. He was real, he existed, we held him in our arm. We have his footprints. From actual feet. Belonging to a real person. He is not and was not a figment of storytelling, a hope or a dream, he was him, he is Leo Phoenix, and he is our baby, our child. And he is in a grave.
That is not trying to conceive. That is stillbirth.
It is different. Please, do not confuse the two.
Both aspects of our journey are our journey to the end result of a living child – but Leo should have been that. We shouldn’t still be on this journey. We didn’t plan to take an unscheduled stop through grief and the shit storm that it is, on the way.
But, aren’t you still trying to conceive?
So we ‘tried to conceive’ after Leo, and again, we conceived. We then miscarried. We will try again to have a living baby, but that thought has a more anxiety and dread than it does excitement. Its hard to say that we are trying, seeming as this is not your conventional trying to conceive. But this aspect of the journey is and will forever be different. It will be trying to conceive after two losses, and that makes a big difference too.
I don’t wish to undermine anyone else’s journey to parenthood, and all the possible detours that it can bring. Our journey to Leo was not easy. But I understand that it is different for everyone. This is our journey, and the only journey that I can speak of. There is no hierarchy, and there really shouldn’t be any comparisons either. Each journey has its own story to tell.
The “I wish I could…”
Throughout the years, we have had all sorts of offers to help us have children. Some a lot less welcomed that others. These have continued since Leo was born. People offer us sperm, eggs, uteruses, ovaries, anything and everything.
And we know there is well meaning behind them.
However, please take comments like that with caution. The bereaved mother hears differently. By offering, you are turning up my inner thoughts that my body failed and I am unable to do what I am designed to do.
But I did conceive. I personally do not have any known fertility complications. I have been tested, and so far, so good. It took us a while, for no known reason. And 2/6 attempts, I conceived. In a one-womb-lots-of-sperm family, this is pretty good going. Leo died. He was healthy. I was healthy. We had no known complications. His placenta was small, but it was managing to keep him going. If he hung on a little longer, if something ‘acute’ didn’t happen, then we wouldn’t know any different. I know, in my rational mind, that taking a few attempts to conceive, Leo dying, and loosing our little Robin, is all unrelated. Because it is all unrelated. Please don’t confuse our misfortune as something other than that.
By offering, you are telling a bereaved mother that I could have done this better than you, that I wouldn’t have let Leo die, and I wouldn’t have failed so catastrophically as you have, because my body and my self is far greater than your body and your self.
When we miscarried so many people, professionals included, instantly went was it the same batch of embryos as Leo? Complete with awkward faces. I’m no medical expert, but what I do know of our 6 week miscarriage and our 37 week stillbirth – these two events are unrelated. Just as they are unrelated to how long it took to get pregnant. It is something that happens. To SO many people. We have no risk factors either. I do not smoke, or drink, I’m (currently) in the safe age bracket, I had no conditions that elevated my risk… the list is endless, but there is no medical reason that we should have this life.
The End Goal is the Same…
The underlying theme here is loss, grief, frustration and sadness. The entire journey’s end goal is a living child being at home with us. But please do not assume that experiencing a loss is part and parcel of a trying to conceive journey. I see them as two different books.
A lot of this to me suggests that miscarriage is an assumed part (although silent) of most people’s journeys. That people expect that those who struggled ‘to conceive’ probably experience miscarriage. This may be true.
But please remember that, trying to conceive, miscarriage and stillbirth are incredibly different.
It is akin to suggesting to someone that you falling off your bike, pretty unscathed, is the same experience as a car crash, with serious injuries. And that all incidents of bike falls and crashed cars are the same.
Would you assume the physical and mental effects of these two scenarios are the same?
Would you expect both to resume cycling/driving with the same level of ease?
I know it’s a potential lazy analogy and please don’t get me wrong, falling off your bike is crap, it’s unsettling and you can easily come away with a mixture of injuries. Some people might break bones, others might just scrape their knees.
I understand the struggle of trying to concieve. I understand it solely from my journeys point of view. Whilst I can understand another person’s journey, there are limits as I have only lived my journey.
This struggle is nothing compared to discovering that my baby, at full term, had died. Inside of me. And then birthing him, holding his cold body, watching him change, having to give him back, and then see him in the smallest of coffins and lowering him into the ground. And then trying to live life afterwards.
Loosing my baby has put a lot of my trying to concieve struggles into perspective.
Whilst we may be still be on a journey, the journey has different branches that should not be considered as the same road travelled.
Please, if you know someone that has experienced loss within their journey to a living child, acknowledge this. They are all babies, no matter when lost. Whilst, for some, the journey may not stop for long after a loss, it does not diminish the loss. And equally, many people experience a long journey after a loss. This isn’t one size fits all. There is (or was for me) an intensely primal need to concieve after such a devastating loss – a need to right the wrong, to feel life growing, to feel love for a little heartbeat, to discover that you aren’t a failure. To know you have something to live for. Believe me when I say, if we had the ability, I would have wanted to try again almost straight away.
Trying to conceive. Pre loss, after losses, in-between losses.
Miscarriage. Early, late, missed, ectopic – so many types.
Termination. For all reasons.
These are different experiences. And within them too, there are vastly different experiences. Maybe that’s a different blog post all together. Just listen to individual experiences, don’t jump from one to another, thinking they are the same.
You’ll do more harm, than good.